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Cardinals beat Braves in NL Wild Card Game

9:58 PM, Oct 5, 2012   |    comments
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Ray Glier, Special for USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA -- It was tumultuous and exhausting. What did you expect from wild card vs. wild card except something wild.

The St. Louis Cardinals resumed their preposterous ways in the postseason with a 6-3 loser-goes-home, Game 7 type victory over the Atlanta Braves, but not before the home fans, accused for years of being too sedate, erupted in disgust over a blown call by the umpires in the bottom of the 8th helped ruin and Atlanta rally.

The Cardinals turned the event completely upside down and inside out. They ruined the going away party for Braves hero Chipper Jones, who closed out a 19-year career. St. Louis was the first team to beat Atlanta in 24 games when pitcher Kris Medlen started for the Braves.

It was a cruel exit for Jones, whose throwing error in the fourth opened the door for a three-run Cardinals inning. Jones, a career .303 hitter, ended his career with one hit in five at bats.

"Ultimately, we need to look in the mirror," said Jones after the game.

Jones was up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when flash bulbs from cameras went off among the sellout, standing room only crowd of 52,631 for what was Jones final at bat. He was down to his last strike when he broke his bat and hit a ball to deep behind the mound and barely beat out the throw. His last at bat of his career was an infield hit.

Freddie Freeman hit a ground rule double and Dan Uggla came up as the tying run, but grounded out to end the Chipper Jones Era in Atlanta.

St. Louis advances to the best-of-five National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals, which starts Sunday in St. Louis.

Matt Holliday homered for the Cardinals and Kyle Lohse pitched 5 2/3 innings for the win, but the rest of what happened here takes a lot more explaining.

The Cardinals scored six runs on six hits because the Braves, the best fielding team in the National League in the regular season, committed three errors. Four runs were unearned.

Medlen, who was 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA in the regular season, pitched 6 1/3 innings and gave up three hits and just two earned runs.

Atlanta, meanwhile, had 12 hits, but scored three runs and left three runners on base. The St. Louis bullpen, a first half issue for the Cardinals, calmed the Braves' attempt at several rallies, but they got some help in a raucous 8th inning.

With runners on first and second and the Braves down 6-3, Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons was called out an infield fly rule in the bottom of the 8th inning on a ball he hit 65 feet into the outfield. As soon as Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez got back to the dugout from arguing the call and Simmons was moved off first base, the crowd exploded in a frenzy of boos and debris. Cardinals third baseman David Freese sprinted for the dugout to escape the torrent of blue beer cans flying from the stands.

The umpires gathered behind the pitcher's mound and water bottle, apparently still half full, came skipping across the diamond.

St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma went back on the ball, then stopped as leftfielder Matt Holliday came charging. Left field umpire Sam Holbrook called the infield fly rule and third base umpire Jeff Nelson jerked his thumb in the air, too. The rule is designed to thwart a defense that allows a ball to drop purposely to force out an advancing runner.

Instead of bases loaded and one out. It was second and third with two out.

For an inning and two thirds this looked like an easily discernible game. Two aces baffling hitters with their best pitches. Medlen was dealing with his two-seam fastball and an effective changeup. Lohse was carving up the Braves with his sinker and struck out four of the first five.

Then, just like that, the game electrified.

There were two outs in the top of the second when Dan Uggla walked. The Braves David Ross came up and faced a one ball, two strikes count and swung and missed at strike three.

Or did he? Ross did not appear to raise his right hand to ask for a timeout from home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg, but apparently made a verbal plea. Kellogg's arm shot up as Lohse was coming to the plate and it was a no pitch.

Lohse then fired a fastball and Ross launched it into the left-center field fence and the huge crowd roared with a 2-0 lead.

The euphoria did not last. Carlos Beltran singled to lead off the fourth. Matt Holliday followed and hit a one-hop rocket to Chipper Jones for a double play ball. Jones threw the ball into right field and runners were on first and third.

Allen Craig followed and walloped a ball off the left field wall scoring Beltran and it was 2-1 with none out. Yadier Molina handled the bat well with a ground ball to second base for an RBI and it was 2-2 and Holliday was on third. David Freese hit a sacrifice fly and it was 3-2.

The game took another wayward, zany turn in the Braves bottom of the fourth. Freddie Freeman walked and, after Uggla grounded out moving Freeman to third, Ross bunted past the pitcher and it was first and third.

Simmons, the No. 8 hitter, bunted with out and when catcher Yadier Molina's throw to first hit Simmons and careened down the right field the crowd erupted as Freeman and Ross appeared to score.

Home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg, regarded as one of the game's fairest umpires, called Simmons out because the Braves' shortstop had veered into the infield grass and was out of the baseline. Simmons was the second out and then Medlen struck out and the threat was extinguished.

 

USA TODAY

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